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Your Favorite Productivity Books

Your Favorite Productivity Books
Productivity Books Recommendations

    Last week, I asked you to recommend your favorite productivity book to a friend or colleague you saw struggling to keep on top of thing. You responded with several great suggestions which I’ll recap below.

    Of course, the idea was somewhat contrived — hopefully you don’t go around handing out book recommendations to everyone you see struggling (unless you’re that guy). Sometimes we offer a little tip, a piece of advice culled from some book or from our own experience, or at the other extreme we might suggest an organization coach. And, of course, reading about productivity and organization isn’t for everyone; you may know people who would be better served by a video, a lecture, or a workshop.

    Still, I think it’s an interesting question to launch our “We Ask, You Answer” series with, since many of us read a variety of books seeking advice on productivity, organization, and overall life success. I half expected a string of responses saying the same thing — David Allen’s Getting Things Done — but I was pleasantly surprised at the range of books people recommended.

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    I (foolishly?) promised to offer my own favorite in my follow-up post, and I’ve spent the last week thinking of what I could offer here. My post on Charles Mingus’ Beneath the Underdog, Improvise Like a Jazz Musician, was one outcome of that process, as I pushed myself to think creatively about the limits of the genre of personal productivity literature. But I’d hardly recommend Beneath the Underdog to anyone struggling to get a grip on a runaway schedule! It’s a brilliant piece of work, but not exactly down-to-earth advice.

    Instead, I have to pick exactly what I was afraid everyone else would pick: Getting Things Done. Personal honesty precludes any other choice, since I actually have given copies of GTD to three people. It’s not the system, though — I don’t practice anything all that close to “orthodox” GTD. What I like about Allen’s book is the matter-of-fact, common sense way he approaches the problem of personal productivity. The core message of Getting Things Done is, in my estimation:

    We all have a bunch of stuff to do, and it doesn’t take a rocket scientists to wrangle it all into some sort of order. So stop worrying so much about keeping track of everything; write it down, and do it.

    The rest is, as they say, commentary. The tickler file, the inboxes, the 2-minute rule, the contexts, the someday/maybe list, the 10,000/20,000/30,000/etc. foot views, all of it. The main problem I see others dealing with, and the problem Allen directly deals with, is the anxiety people face when they begin to feel overwhelmed and start doubting whether they’re keeping on top of all their obligations.

    Several of you (Justin Prud’homme, Ravindran, Jens Poder, and Chat) agreed, at least about the book if not about the reasons. Justin also recommended Allen’s follow-up, Ready for Anything, a collection of 52 meditations/advices that expand ideas brought up in Getting Things Done. Chat bought a copy of GTD for her mother for Christmas (hopefully mom doesn’t read lifehack! At least, not until Christmas…), agreeing that it’s not the whole system that’s important but the approach to remembering and prioritizing tasks that makes the biggest impact in many people’s lives.

    Jens Poder made an interesting and, I think, useful distinction between “personal leadership” and “personal efficiency”, recommending GTD to people who need to get a grip on their personal organizational habits and Steven Covey’s The 7 Habits of Effective People for people whose issues lay less in getting things done and more in creating and implementing a vision. Vamsi agreed with Jens’ recommendation, calling 7 Habits “the bible” of personal productivity.

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    As Jens says, GTD and 7 Habits are “the usual suspects”, but for good reason: many people have found their lives improved by reading these books and following the principles Allen and Covey outline. But they are far from being the only books out there, and you came up with lots of other books offering different strategies and different philosophies for taking charge of your out-of-control life. Some of these I’ve read, but many I had not only not read but had never even heard of, so it was doubly interesting for me to read your responses.

    Teknitis and Kevin X both recommended lifehack contributor Leo Babauta’s new e-book Zen to Done, which offers a “boiled down” take on the GTD system, with a few twists. I’m just starting to read this, and will offer a full review here at lifehack later on. If you’ve read Leo’s work, though, either here or at his blog Zen Habits, you know that Leo has a likeable and approachable writing voice and a real kind of wisdom in his writings; Zen to Done looks to be more of the same, focused tightly around the question of personal productivity habits.

    Another book with multiple recommendations was Neil Fiore’s The Now Habit, which drew attention from both KRS and Jan. Fiore’s approach deals with some of the underlying issues that cause us to overload ourselves with work and then procrastinate getting it done; as KRS says, you have to deal with this stuff before any system is going to have much of a result.

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    Both Kevin and RDH recommended Timothy Ferris’ The 4-Hour Work Week, which runs a close runner-up for the top place on my own list. Ferris is a remarkable character, and has managed to free up his life so that he can follow his own muse, wherever it leads him, while still making a decent living. Central to his book is the idea of mini-retirements — why work your whole life for a retirement you’re too old to enjoy, when you can explore the world now and still earn enough to live well. 4HWW is definitely inspirational, and a must-read in my opinion for anyone with an entrepreneurial spirit.

    Rounding up the rest of the titles, we have:

    • 101 Ways to have a Business and a Life by Andrew Griffiths. Tully recommended this, saying it has “plenty of practical stuff for business owners and consultants”.
    • Time Power by Charles R Hobbs. Charles says Hobbs encourages a process of “firmly establishing ‘unifying principles’, developing goals which have ‘congruity’ with these principles, and applying a ‘concentration of power’ to work those things which are most important”. Apparently this one is out of print, but nowadays there’s plenty of ways to get your hands on an out-of-print book.
    • Steve recommended his own article How to Supercharge Your Productivity.
    • The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, Is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz. According to Marie, who recommended this one, Loehr and Schwartz remind us that it’s not only ok to slow down and take a breath once in a while, but that it’s crucial!
    • TexasEx94 recommends Seize the Workday and Total Workday Control by Michael Linenberger; Craig Huggart seconds the recommendation for Total Workday Control, calling it “the best book on getting up to speed quickly with the Getting Things Done system”.
    • Glenn recommends The Effective Executive by Peter Drucker for anyone in management. I haven’t read this one, but am currently working my way through The Daily Drucker, a collection of quotes, tips, and observations on working more effectively. There’s a lot of good stuff there, which is about what you’d expect from a man who lived and worked for nearly a century.
    • Sangreal recommends two books by Mark Foster: Get Everything Done and Still Have Time To Play for the person who’s drowning and needs an immediate lifeline, and Do It Tomorrow for the person who’s not quite buried but needs a little push to get the most out of their days.
    • Sangreal also made the seemingly odd recommendation of books on organization for people with ADHD. I actually picked up a book for ADHD sufferers by accident at the library one time, and to be honest, there was quite a lot of good advice there. More and more, we live in an “ADHD world”, so even if you’re not an “official” ADHD patient, much of the advice that applies to them is likely to apply to you as well.
    • And last but not least, L.H. suggests we have a look at Tony Robbins’ Time of your Life.

    Thanks to everyone for their recommendations — there’s a lot here to expand the personal productivity bookshelf of any GTD’er, and with Christmas coming up and Hannukah already well underway, perhaps this list will give you some ideas for gifts for your own frazzled friends and family members!

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    Last Updated on June 3, 2020

    How to Write SMART Goals (With SMART Goals Templates)

    How to Write SMART Goals (With SMART Goals Templates)

    Everyone needs a goal. Whether it’s in a business context or for personal development, having goals help you strive towards something you want to accomplish. It prevents you from wandering around aimlessly without a purpose.

    But there are good ways to write goals and there are bad ways. If you want to ensure you’re doing the former, keep reading to find out how a SMART goals template can help you with it.

    The following video is a summary of how you can write SMART goals effectively:

    What Are SMART Goals?

    SMART Goals

    refer to a way of writing down goals that follow a specific criteria. The earliest known use of the term was by George T. Doran in the November 1981 issue of Management Review, however, it is often associated with Peter Drucker’s management by objectives concept.[1]

    SMART is an acronym that stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound. There are other variations where certain letters stand for other things such as “achievable” instead of attainable, and “realistic” instead of relevant.

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    What separates a SMART goal from a non-SMART goal is that, while a non-SMART goal can be vague and ill-defined, a SMART goal is actionable and can get you results. It sets you up for success and gives you a clear focus to work towards.

    And with SMART goals comes a SMART goals template. So, how do you write according to this template?

    How to Write Smart Goals Using a SMART Goals Template

    For every idea or desire to come to fruition, it needs a plan in place to make it happen. And to get started on a plan, you need to set a goal for it.

    The beauty of writing goals according to a SMART goals template is that it can be applied to your personal or professional life.

    If it’s your job to establish goals for your team, then you know you have a lot of responsibility weighing on your shoulders. The outcome of whether or not your team accomplishes what’s expected of them can be hugely dependant on the goals you set for them. So, naturally, you want to get it right.

    On a personal level, setting goals for yourself is easy, but actually following through with them is the tricky part. According to a study by Mark Murphy about goal setting, participants who vividly described their goals were 1.2 to 1.4 times more likely to successfully achieve their goals.[2] Which goes to show that if you’re clear about your goals, you can have a higher chance of actually accomplishing them.

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    Adhering to a SMART goals template can help you with writing clear goals. So, without further ado, here’s how to write SMART goals with a SMART goals template:

    Specific

    First and foremost, your goal has to be specific. Be as clear and concise as possible because whether it’s your team or yourself, whoever has to carry out the objective needs to be able to determine exactly what it is they are required to do.

    To ensure your goal is as specific as it can be, consider the Ws:

    • Who = who is involved in executing this goal?
    • What = what exactly do I want to accomplish?
    • Where = if there’s a fixed location, where will it happen?
    • When = when should it be done by? (more on deadline under “time-bound”)
    • Why = why do I want to achieve this?

    Measurable

    The only way to know whether or not your goal was successful is to ensure it is measurable. Adding numbers to a goal can help you or your team weigh up whether or not expectations were met and the outcome was triumphant.

    For example, “Go to the gym twice a week for the next six months” is a stronger goal to strive for than simply, “Go to the gym more often”.

    Setting milestone throughout your process can also help you to reassess progress as you go along.

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    Attainable

    The next important thing to keep in mind when using a SMART goals template is to ensure your goal is attainable. It’s great to have big dreams but you want your goals to be within the realms of possibility, so that you have a higher chance of actually accomplishing them.

    But that doesn’t mean your goal shouldn’t be challenging. You want your goal to be achievable while at the same time test your skills.

    Relevant

    For obvious reasons, your goal has to be relevant. It has to align with business objectives or with your personal aspirations or else, what’s the point of doing it?

    A SMART goal needs to be applicable and important to you, your team, or your overall business agenda. It needs to be able to steer you forward and motivate you to achieve it, which it can if it holds purpose to something you believe in.

    Time-Bound

    The last factor of the SMART goals template is time-bound (also known as “timely”). Your goal needs a deadline, because without one, it’s less likely to be accomplished.

    A deadline provides a sense of urgency that can motivate you or your team to strive towards the end. The amount of time you allocate should be realistic. Don’t give yourself—or your team—only one week if it takes three weeks to actually complete it. You want to set a challenge but you don’t want to risk over stress or burn out.

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    Benefits of Using a SMART Goals Template

    Writing your goals following a SMART goals template provides you with a clearer focus. It communicates what the goal needs to achieve without any fuss.

    With a clear aim, it can give you a better idea of what success is supposed to look like. It also makes it easier to monitor progress, so you’re aware whether or not you’re on the right path.

    It can also make it easier to identify bottlenecks or missed targets while you’re delivering the goal. This gives you enough time to rectify any problems so you can get back on track.

    The Bottom Line

    Writing goals is seemingly not a difficult thing to do. However, if you want it to be as effective as it can be, then there’s more to it than meets the eye.

    By following a SMART goals template, you can establish a more concrete foundation of goal setting. It will ensure your goal is specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound—attributes that cover the necessities of an effectively written goal.

    More Tips About Goals Setting

    Featured photo credit: Estée Janssens via unsplash.com

    Reference

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